Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • Francis Picabia and the Problem of Nihilism

    Author:
    David Lewis
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Emily Braun
    Abstract:

    “Francis Picabia and the Problem of Nihilism ” offers an interpretation of Francis Picabia based on the work of Friedrich Nietzsche. Building on already established art-historical material, and on the tradition of Nietzschian interpretation in continental aesthetics, the dissertation offers a new reading of Picabia's hugely variegated, apparently contradictory career. The central claim is that Picabia's art was generated by the same problem that Nietzsche wrestled with in philosophy: nihilism, the devaluation of all transcendent values in modernity. The strategies Picabia developed to overcome nihilism often match those developed by Nietzsche. Each of the five chapters defines such a strategy and tracks the way it unfolded in Picabia's oeuvre, analyzing specific paintings and texts formally and contextually by way of contemporary criticism and intellectual currents.

  • Weighing the Body: Female Body Image in Contemporary Art

    Author:
    Emily Newman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Anna Chave
    Abstract:

    Numerous contemporary artists, particularly female artists, have at key moments in their careers chosen to examine the issue of female body image. The preoccupation with weight is preeminently visual, so artistic interventions can be particularly powerful. Yet no comprehensive study exists of artwork concerned with pandemic issues such as obesity, anorexia, bulimia, dieting, or female body image broadly. In this dissertation, I examine significant examples of such projects by locating works by key artists in social and historical context, including that of evolving feminist discourses on the body: Laura Aguilar (b. 1959), Eleanor Antin (b. 1935), Vanessa Beecroft (b. 1969), Maureen Connor (b. 1947), Lauren Greenfield (b. 1966), Ariane Lopez-Huici (b. 1945), Leonard Nimoy (b. 1931), L.A. Raeven (twins Liesbeth and Angelique Raeven, who work as a singular artist, b. 1971), Faith Ringgold (b. 1930), Rachel Rosenthal (b. 1926), Barbara Smith (1931), and Jana Sterbak (b. 1955). Many of the artists in question have incorporated their own bodies into their work, at times leading to certain contradictions that deserve discussion. That is, as they choose to diet or to display their eating disorders through their artworks, they may appear complicit in the very syndromes that they are ostensibly critiquing. In choosing to investigate or document extreme examples of thin and fat women, or in chronicling anorexic and bulimic bodies, these thirteen artists generally raise questions concerning societal pressures on the healthy female body. I argue that each of these artists has somehow questioned female bodily ideals while also complicating the idea of a "normal" female figure. Because the artists in question--though all from the United States and Europe--represent a variety of backgrounds, including Jewish, African-American, Latina, and white, it follows that their work evinces different cultural or sub-cultural understandings of, and approaches to body size. By focusing in a roughly chronological way on projects that date from the 1970s to the early 2000s, I examine how visual approaches to issues surrounding body image have shifted and developed over time as artists move from documenting their own dieting to heralding the fat body to others who justify eating disorders.

  • Passive Fascism? The Politics of Austrian Heimat Photography

    Author:
    Elizabeth Cronin
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Geoffrey Batchen
    Abstract:

    This dissertation focuses on Austrian Heimat [homeland] photography during the 1930s. Seemingly apolitical, this regional and popular photography of bucolic landscapes, quaint villages, peasants in traditional dress, skiers, and mountaineers was fundamental in shaping Austrian identity. Both the pre-war fascist and the postwar democratic governments easily appropriated and encouraged its dissemination. It fully fit within the vision of building a new Austrian nation comprised of distinct regional identities. Of central importance to my dissertation is the question of how the preference for the local, which is strongly visible in these photographs, intersects with the desire to be part of a nation. It permeated people's lives during the 1930s and again in the 1950s, helping to establish the image of Austria as a peaceful Alpine nation. Examining a little-recognized, yet highly influential movement within Austria not only offers a new perspective on the development of modern Austrian identity, but also stresses the importance of including regional movements in histories of photography. Chapter One provides the political context for Austrian Heimat photography during the 1930s, bringing to light how the Austrian government encouraged Heimat photography and tried to unify Austria through a policy of cultural superiority and an image of an Alpine ideal. Chapter Two examines the beginnings of Heimat photography in the Heimat preservation movement and the development of Heimat photography in Germany and Austria during the 1920s and 1930s. Chapter Three considers Austrian Heimat photography as an integral part of government-supported tourism that promoted the country as an Alpine haven and a winter sports paradise. Chapter Four examines several different Heimat photobooks published during the 1930s as a basis for comparing the political attitudes of Heimat photographers towards the Austrian government and National Socialists. Chapter Five is a reflection on how the National Socialist government was able to appropriate the nationalist sentiment and romanticized viewpoints seen in the Austrian Heimat, transforming them into representation of the German Heimat. Chapter Six concentrates on post-War Austrian Heimat photobooks which featured much of the same traditional subject matter from pre-War Alpine Heimat. Amidst a cultural atmosphere of denial and victimhood the Heimat remained popular. Finally, the conclusion stresses the importance of cultural histories of photography and suggests further areas research.

  • The Museum of Modern Art's What Is Modern? Series, 1938-1969

    Author:
    Jennifer Tobias
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Rosemarie Bletter
    Abstract:

    Between 1938 and 1969, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) poses the question of What Is Modern? (WIM) in a series of books, traveling exhibitions, and a symposium. This dissertation argues for the WIM project as a sustained if minimally effective effort to influence popular American perceptions of modern art, architecture, and design, at the same time embodying tensions inherent to the museum and its notions of that modernism. MoMA is an unquestionable influence on modern art history. WIM is a significant component of this influence, yet scholarship on the series is minimal. Hiding in plain sight, the series offers signal insights into the Museum's first century of answers to the question of What Is Modern? Each WIM holds a key to the development and dissemination of MoMA's ideology. Two versions of What Is Modern Architecture? (WISMA, 1938, 1962) first advocate for and then wrestle with the legacy of International Style architecture. Next, Alfred H. Barr Jr.'s What Is Modern Painting? (WIMP, 1943) and precursors reflect development of the museum's core ideals. At mid-century, Edward Steichen's symposium and unrealized book What Is Modern Photography? (WIMPh, 1950, 1951) fail to critically address the medium upon which the series depends to make its case. At the same time, Edgar J. Kaufmann Jr.'s What Is Modern Design? (WIMD, 1950) and What Is Modern Interior Design? (WISMID, 1953) assert an alternative to the machine aesthetic and International Style ideology. Finally, two versions of What Is Modern Sculpture? (WIMS, 1942, 1969) evince a formalism that, while innovative and provocative in MoMA's early years, read as a conservative statement in the face of late-century art movements and post-colonial attitudes towards "primitivism." The dissertation concludes with a review of media for which the museum chose other (or no) forms of popularization, followed by a review of key themes supporting the central argument. This investigation draws two interrelated conclusions. First, the WIM series represents a complex and contradictory internal discourse, both within and between departments, over the course of most of the twentieth century, that is subsumed into a confident public education campaign. Second, engagement with modern communications media is integral to the formulation, promulgation--and dissonance--of those notions.

  • Enconchados: Political, Cultural, and Social Implications of a New Art in Seventeenth-Century New Spain

    Author:
    Miguel Arisa
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Eloise Quiñones-Keber
    Abstract:

    Seventeenth-century New Spain (Mexico) saw the rise of an art form that melded traditions from pre-Hispanic, Asian, and European styles. Enconchado paintings, so called because mother-of-pearl is inlaid mostly on canvas stretched on a panel, were produced in workshops in Mexico City and sent to the metropolis as gifts to the monarch or to noblemen. Around 300 of these unique works exist in museums in Europe and in the Americas today. Not surprisingly, the most common subject matter is religious; however, about one hundred of them depict the historical events that lead to the conquest of Mexico by Hernando Cortés. Most scholarship has centered on the Asian and European influences on these works. This project investigates the three-pronged influences in a more egalitarian way, positing as much weight on the indigenous aspects as on the others. Furthermore, it contextualizes the production of these ideological works with the literature, histories, treatises, and other works of art produced in the viceroyalty of New Spain during this century when the rise of the Creole class (people born in Mexico of Spanish-born parents) was beginning to make its imprint in the economic, social, and cultural spheres. By tracing the different threads that make up these works, their ideological impact, as well as their 300-year old histories, this dissertation aims for a better understanding of these works and the forces that made their production possible.

  • Framing the Nation: Nation Building, Resistance, and Democratization in Korean Photography, 1945-2008

    Author:
    Jung Joon Lee
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Geoffrey Batchen
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines photography in Korea since 1945, focusing on the medium's relation to the processes of nation building, civic resistance, and democratization. The dissertation evaluates a number of types of photograph, ranging from war photographs to family portraits to art photography. These assessments are informed by the ways in which photography has articulated, and in turn been shaped by, social, political, and technological shifts in Korean society. Korea's history since 1945--a history of liberation, war, nation building, and civic struggle against authoritarian military governments--parallels the culture's development of photography and its various practices. The relationship between photography and nation building and photography and democratization is thus crucial to the history of both the nation and the medium: photography does not merely re-present Korean life; it is an integral part of it. The investigation is organized chronologically, following the progression of South Korea's social and political development and treating the distinct formative periods in the nation-building process as backdrop and cultivator for the photographic works that emerged from each era. The history of photography in Korea since 1945 is the history of the struggles and trials of a society functioning under ideological conflict, state control, and a culture emerging from normalized militarism. This dissertation argues that the photographic practices that have developed since independence are fundamentally about the relationship between the state and the people. An understanding of this relationship, and how photography articulates it, is dependent on understanding the socio-political progress of the nation and how these photographic practices have become specifically Korean. The dissertation provides an understanding of this progress. With the sharp increase in interest in "national photography" since the turn of the millennium, issues of subjectivity have become even more apparent. Embracing the importance of interdisciplinary methodologies, this dissertation emphasizes issues of subjectivity and power dynamics as part of the produced knowledge and contextualizes Korean photographic practices within the historical significance of nation building, civic resistance, and democratization.

  • Reframing the Narrative of Dada in New York, 1910-1926

    Author:
    Sarah Archino
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Rose-Carol Long
    Abstract:

    New York Dada has historically been positioned as incompatible or antithetical to American modernism. This dissertation argues that the Dada spirit in New York not only rejected European conventions of high art, but did so with the nationalistic desire to develop a modern and independent American idiom through the influence of anarchism and vernacular culture. This study traces the influence of anarchism in New York on Alfred Stieglitz, his influential gallery, "291," and his publication, Camera Work, as well as larger anarchistic networks during the early 1910s. In this atmosphere of iconoclastic experimentation, vernacular culture emerged as an alternative strategy to critique the definitions and institutions of fine art. Whereas most studies of New York Dada focus on the work of Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, and Man Ray, this study reconstructs the cultural conditions in which they worked. The year 1915 becomes a watershed moment, not simply for the arrival of Duchamp and Picabia, but for the publication of Van Wyck Brooks's cultural critique, America's Coming-of-Age. This text blamed the dichotomy between the highbrow and lowbrow for the lack of a truly American cultural idiom. I argue that the main character of New York Dada - its enthusiastic adoption of the subjects, styles, and strategies of vernacular culture - attempts to bridge that divide. The vernacular came to represent a new standard of American identity, a flexible definition that could allow an amateurish aesthetic to coexist with industrial imagery. This study broadens the scope of New York Dada production to include the work of artists and critics who collaborated in this Dada spirit, but have historically been separated from the Dada movement. In this larger context, canonical works of Dada, especially periodicals such as The Ridgefield Gazook (1915), The Blind Man (1917), and New York Dada (1921) will be reconsidered.

  • YAYOI KUSAMA: BIOGRAPHY AND CULTURAL CONFRONTATION, 1945-1969

    Author:
    Midori Yamamura
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Anna Chave
    Abstract:

    Yayoi Kusama (b.1929) was among the first Japanese artists to rise to international prominence after World War II. She emerged when wartime modern nation-state formations and national identity in the former Axis Alliance countries quickly lost ground to U.S.-led Allied control, enforcing a U.S.-centered model of democracy and capitalism. As a result, the art world became increasingly internationalized. This interdisciplinary study is the first attempt to comparatively examine postwar artistic developments in Japan, the United States, and Europe, through a focus on Kusama. I consider Kusama not so much in terms that seek to aggrandize the uniqueness of the individual, but that assess her entry into and position within an historical sequence, namely the radical changes which took place after the war. Mine is a material investigation, which addresses how personal and cultural memories may be embedded in objects. By examining her breakthrough work against the backdrop of her milieu, this feminist study will illuminate particular issues Kusama might have encountered in society and analyze how her experiences uniquely shaped her practice. I will also analyze works by Kusama's peers that help to illuminate the scope and nature of the problems that she encountered. Growing up under Japan's militaristic totalitarian regime, Kusama embraced art as a non-conformist pursuit. Her defiance of fanatic chauvinism propelled her, after the war, to seek a career overseas. She arrived in 1958 in New York, where a burgeoning cosmopolitanism contributed to her initial success with five nearly identical white Net paintings. Beginning in 1960, the artists affiliated with the German Zero group invited Kusama to exhibit in Europe. By 1962, she had shown with the future Pop and Minimal artists in New York. As New York's art market became more firmly established, however, multiculturalism tended to become less embraced there. By 1966, this drove Kusama to drop out of the commercial art world. She began creating politically charged site-specific installations and Happenings where the theme of liberatory sexuality was key. But around 1969, as the gallery-money-power-structure became an unchallengeable fact, she ceased her activity in New York.

  • Mural Painting and Social Change in the Colonial Andes, 1626-1830

    Author:
    Ananda Cohen
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Eloise Quinones Keber
    Abstract:

    Mural painting in colonial Peru (1534-1824) grew out of both indigenous Andean and European pictorial traditions that coalesced into a hybrid art form deployed to serve a variety of functions. Unlike paintings on canvas and panel, for which there existed no precedent in the Pre-Columbian Andes, mural painting was practiced in South America for at least 2,000 years before the Spanish invasion in 1532. Murals produced in the post-conquest period retained continuity with pre-Columbian traditions in terms of their technical aspects, while their iconography and style shifted dramatically to suit the needs of the Spanish colonial enterprise. First and foremost, colonial Andean mural painting served as an important visual tool in the religious conversion of indigenous peoples by encasing the interiors of churches with didactic illustrations of Catholic doctrine. In addition to their religious aspect, however, murals also transmitted social and political values to their local communities. This dissertation thus focuses on the intersections of mural painting and social transformation in the highland Cuzco region of Peru. It offers case studies of several Cuzco-area mural programs that span from the mid colonial period to the early years of independence: the churches of Andahuaylillas (ca. 1626), Urcos (mid-17th century), Pitumarca (18th century), Huaro (1802), and the wheat mill murals of Acomayo (1830s). Despite their wide temporal distribution, the murals under discussion are united in their intimate engagement with their local contexts. The present study examines subtle shifts in iconography, style, and the creation of multivalent religious imagery as important strategies undertaken by muralists to obliquely reference the sociopolitical issues with which indigenous communities were engaged. It draws on field research, archival documents, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century religious texts, and secondary source materials from art history, anthropology, and ethnohistory in order to offer new interdisciplinary perspectives for the study of colonial Andean mural painting.

  • 30,000 Reasons to Remember: Artistic Strategies for Memorializing Argentina's Disappeared

    Author:
    Marisa Lerer
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Katherine Manthorne
    Abstract:

    This dissertation traces the construction of memorials from 1976-2009 dedicated to the victims of state-sponsored terrorism under the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, now known collectively as the disappeared, and the creation of new paradigms in public art and memorialization practices in Argentina. I examine a typology of memorials to the disappeared and analyze the spatial power dynamics in the public realm under the dictatorship and in the democratic era. This dissertation is the first scholarly text to focus on the history of patronage and the range of visual forms in Argentine memorials to the disappeared. My research analyzes the relationship between a memorial's subject and the artists' chosen formal representational strategies. I explore the artists' use of various media and styles to memorialize the disappeared, including documentary photography, guerilla art, conceptualism, minimalism, abstraction, performance, and figuration. Aesthetic choices reflect the political platforms and goals of the memorials' main patronage groups: human rights organizations, cultural institutions, and the government. My investigation reveals that the memorials dedicated to the victims of state-sponsored terrorism are part of a contentious struggle in the politics of public space that began under the military junta and continues to this day. The production of Argentine memorials that honor the disappeared are a reflection of the present moment in which they are designed. Artists and human rights organizations created these works to challenge and alter the established government order and cultural institutional spaces became sites of resistance against the historical narrative put forth by the military and the ruling democratic presidents. Minimalism, on the other hand appears to have become a favored choice for government-sponsored memorials because it lacks and therefore erases an apparent narrative. This project stresses the importance of understanding and considering audience response to the major paradigms of Argentine memorial construction. In addition, the interdisciplinary nature of my research incorporates the study of Latin American art with public art, and memory studies, thereby providing a new lens through which to analyze contemporary Argentine art production.